This coming Shabbat, Parashat Chayei Sarah, has in recent years assumed the added appellation, Shabbat Hebron, taken from the opening chapter in Genesis 23, detailing the purchase of what we today call Me’orat Machpelah in the town of Hebron by Avraham as a burial site for his recently deceased wife, Sarah.
Given the ongoing events related to the rights to ownership of the land of Israel by the Jewish people, a closer examination of our rightful inheritance of this land based upon biblical narrative is in order.
Recently, a new commentary on the book of Genesis was published — “The Inside Story: A Chassidic Perspective on Biblical Events, Laws, and Personalities” (Meaningful Life Center) by Rabbi Yanki Tauber of Woodmere. Within it can be found some of the most literate and profound observations and interpretations of the biblical text. This excellent volume gives us an taste for the deeper meanings that are at the core of the teachings of our holy faith.
This week’s review will deal with Rabbi Tauber’s interpretation of the Hebron saga, entitled, “The Hebron Purchase.” This teaching provides a clear justification for the Jewish claim to the land of Israel from time immemorial.
The author begins his narrative by citing the following biblical verse: “Abraham weighed out to Ephron the money of which he spoke in the ears of the children of Heth: four hundred shekels of silver in merchant’s currency.” (Genesis 23:16)
Rabbi Tauber continues: “In Genesis 23 we read of the first tract in the Land of Israel to enter into Jewish possession. G-d had already promised Abraham, ‘The entire land that you see, I will give to you and your descendants forever. … Arise and traverse the land, in its length and in its breadth, for to you I shall give it…’ (Genesis 13).
“But many centuries would pass before Abraham’s descendants took actual possession of the land under the leadership of Joshua. One place, however, where a part of the Land of Israel came into the possession of the Jewish people in the actual and legal sense, was the ‘Machpelah Field and its cave’ in the heart of Hebron, which Abraham purchased from Ephron the Hittite.”
Further on the author presents to us the reality that these events teach as to what eretz Yisrael means to us since time immemorial:
“Indeed, our sages point out that there are three places in the Land of Israel over which the Jewish right of ownership is most powerfully established. Even those who deny the divine promise quoted above [and reiterated by G-d many times throughout the Bible], cannot contest the Jewish right over the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, purchased by King David from Aravnah the Jebusite; the section of Shechem (Nablus) purchased by Jacob from the family of Canaanite ruler Hamor; and the Machpelah Field of Hebron, purchased by Abraham as a burial place for his wife Sarah.”
Rabbi Tauber concludes this teaching:
“The same is true of the land of Israel. Israel is the eternal inheritance of the Jewish people, equally the property of every individual Jew. And so it has been from the very first moment of Jewish ownership of the Holy Land: the first plot of land obtained by the first Jew included a share for every Jewish soul.”
This sacred teaching inheres within it absolutely no equivocation of thought or intent. This claim to the Land of Israel is based on the holy writ, a scripture regarded as sacred by two of the three major monotheistic faiths.
This lesson is further reinforced by the author in a previous teaching, “Give and Given,” cited in this same volume:
“Therein lies a lesson for all generations of Jews. Although we may find ourselves in galut [exile], under the hegemony of nations more powerful than ourselves, this does not in the least affect our ownership of the Holy Land. The Land of Israel is ours by divine bequest; we need only claim our heritage. We need only traverse the land and settle its length and breadth to make it unequivocally and eternally ours.”
Rabbi Yanki Tauber is currently chief writer and editor of, “The Book,” a new translation and anthologized commentary for the Five Books of Moses, and is the author of the three volume series “Inside Time: A Chassidic Perspective on the Jewish Calendar” that warrants your attention as well.
FOR YOUR FURTHER LEARNING
A new volume was recently published by Maggid Books entitled, “With Might and Strength: An Autobiography,” by Rabbi Shlomo Goren, zt”l. Within this extremely interesting work are some very insightful observations of his experiences during the Six Day War in 1967. Among these experiences were those that he had in the conquest of Hebron in a chapter entitled, “Rachel’s Tomb and the Cave of the Patriarchs.” His firsthand accounts are among the very few to have been written by someone who fully understood the spiritual significance of this conquest. With the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Six Day War next spring, I suggest giving this memoir by Rav Goren your attention.
Another work worth your attention is “Between the Lines of the Bible: Recapturing the Full Meaning of the Biblical Text” (UO Press/Urim Publications, 2015), by Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom. Of timely importance is Rabbi Etshalom’s rather cerebral treatment of the Biblical text dealing with Hebron, specifically, chapter 12, “From Hebron to Sodom,” and chapter 14, “ Purchase of Machpelah: Historical Background and Archaeological Evidence as Tools of Interpretation.”